Australia: Hazardous chemicals and the Model laws

Workplace safety news – March 2011

The Model WHS Regulations pertaining to chemical classification, labels and Safety Data Sheets have been drafted to implement the 'Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals' (GHS) across all jurisdictions. These obligations are especially relevant to PCBUs who formulate, manufacture, import or supply hazardous chemicals. In particular, suppliers will need to be aware of regulations dealing with packing hazardous chemicals and dangerous goods. In all jurisdictions with the exception of NSW and the ACT, compliance with specific packing provisions is a novel requirement. Codes of Practice for Labelling and Preparation of Safety Data Sheets (currently available in draft form) will provide detailed guidance on these topics.

Whilst the Part of the Model WHS Regulations relating to Hazardous Chemicals is one of the areas to adopt a hierarchy of controls to control risks, the Model WHS Regulations also place considerable emphasis upon administrative control measures. These obligations include keeping hazardous chemical registers and manifests in the workplace, and preparing emergency plans. The Model WHS Regulations create an authorisation regime for prescribed uses of restricted and prohibited carcinogens, with record keeping by PCBUs an important aspect of the Model WHS Regulations. PCBUs are required to provide workers with information, training and health surveillance, and to keep records of these activities for prescribed periods of time. Notification requirements will apply in a number of circumstances, including when a manifest quantity of certain chemicals are at a workplace, when a tank is abandoned, and when lead risk work is to be carried out.

Are there any changes to the placard and manifest quantities under the Model WHS Regulations?

The Model WHS Regulations include a revised table of prescribed levels for dangerous goods in the workplace. Threshold levels are set out, with corresponding requirements to comply with various placard and manifest regulations. Providing notification to the regulator in cases where threshold levels are exceeded will be a novel requirement in some jurisdictions, replacing licence and registration regimes for dangerous goods currently in force in Western Australia, Queensland and the ACT.

What are the requirements with respect to asbestos under the Mode WHS Regulations?

The Model WHS Regulations set out detailed requirements with respect to work involving asbestos. The Model WHS Regulations address identification and management of asbestos in the workplace and create a new national licensing scheme for asbestos assessors and removalists.

PCBU obligations with respect to managing asbestos in the workplace will include:

  • maintaining an asbestos register to record asbestos or asbestos containing materials present in the workplace, and
  • having a written asbestos management plan in place.

PCBUs also have specific duties to provide training, health surveillance and information about asbestos exposure to workers, and to keep health surveillance and training records for prescribed periods of time.

The introduction of a national licensing scheme for asbestos assessors and removalists will implement standardised units of competency and required training. PCBUs involved in asbestos removal work will be obliged to prepare a written removal control plan, and to notify the regulator prior to commencement of asbestos removal. Further guidance on these regulations will be provided by the proposed Codes of Practice dealing with management and control of asbestos in the workplace, and asbestos removal.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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